July 26, 2021

Exclusive: Friends reunited as McKinstry’s Uganda face Rwanda

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The Northern Irish coach is preparing for a reunion with some of his old charges in the Cranes’ Chan opener

Uganda coach Johnny McKinstry is gearing up for a memorable reunion for a group of players he knows well when the Cranes meet Rwanda in their African Nations Championship opener on Monday.

The 35-year-old is currently in his third major role in African football, having previously held the reins with Sierra Leone and Rwanda, before later taking the Uganda job in 2019.

He now gets the chance to catch up with his former Amabuvi charges on Monday when the Cranes kick off their Chan campaign with a derby against their East African neighbours.

“[It’s] a game that bears significance beyond the tournament for Uganda,” McKinstry told Goal, “because it’s a very local rivalry that goes back, it’s a big derby game.

“But [it also bears significance] for myself, because 18 of the 30 players that Rwanda have named in their squad played for me when I was their head coach several years ago.”

McKinstry was appointed Wasps boss in 2015, ending their four-year wait for an away victory when they defeated Mozambique during the qualifying campaign for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, while also taking silver at the 2015 Cecafa Cup.

The Northern Irishman also took the East Africans to the latter stages of the 2016 Chan, and, memorably, was within two minutes of taking a point from Avram Grant’s Ghana during the Afcon qualifying campaign, only for Wakaso Mubarak’s late freekick to seal the win for the Black Stars.

“They come in with an experienced squad,” McKinstry continued, “and [for me] it will be meeting up with people again after not seeing them for several years face to face.

“A number of those Rwandan players I’ve kept contact with over the years including one who came to play with me in Asia [in Singapore], so they’re old relationships, but they will be set aside for 90 minutes as we look to go out and get the best possible start for Rwanda at Chan.”

While Rwanda reached the Chan quarter-finals under McKinstry five years ago, his current team—Uganda—have never before escaped the group stage at the biennial tournament.

In fact, despite qualifying for the tournament on five occasions, Uganda have won just one of 12 previous matches at Chan, and will be desperate to amend that underwhelming record this time around.